It is no surprise that clubs are sniffing around Stoke City hoping to snatch Harry Souttar on another loan deal.
Joey Barton is a huge fan after borrowing him for 18 months at Fleetwood Town, reaching the League One play-offs last season as he starred alongside Glenn Whelan.
They were the division’s form team when the music stopped in mid-March and who knows where they would have finished if 46 games had been played.
Souttar, now aged 21, has returned to Stoke for pre-season and a chance to impress Michael O’Neill, who had namechecked his progress over the past few months.
But what does the future hold?
Defenders develop at different speeds but Ryan Shawcross was a Premier League regular at 21 and he was only a year off being made captain – but that is Ryan Shawcross.
If the door is not open for Souttar now after he has proven to be one of the best centre-halves in League One over a sustained period, what chance in five or 11 months time when Michael O’Neill is hoping he will have made the team even harder to break into?
Already it’s tough.
James Chester has arrived back on a permanent deal, Shawcross is hoping for a season free of the kind of horrible bad luck with injuries he’s had recently, Danny Batth was top of the pecking order and Nathan Collins is one of the most highly rated prospects in the Championship.
There’s Liam Lindsay too, a £2m signing in 2019 who didn’t feature after January, and Bruno Martins Indi, who has spent most of the last season filling in at left-back.
Will Forrester was promoted to the first team bench at the end of 2019/20 as well… although Kevin Wimmer is yet to be sighted after a loan move at Royal Excel Mouscron.
The Sun’s Alan Nixon today suggests a loan for Souttar is on the cards.
Apologies to Joey Barton and Clint Hill but he is already probably too good for League One and he’s ready to be tested in the Championship.
Only a loan move at the same level could provide information Stoke don’t already know and catapult him into O’Neill’s plans – unless he’s there already.
The answer will come soon enough.
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